6 Trails to Run in the Twin Cities
It’s no secret that the Twin Cities has an abundance of paved running and biking paths, but what if you’re looking to escape the concrete jungle? Where do you go to find trails (without spending an hour in the car)? With some help from Google, I explored several parks around the Twin Cities and also ran down a lot of random trails that I encountered. This put me in some interesting places at times, but it also helped me find some amazing places I never knew existed, like an island on the Mississippi River!
From an easy 5k loop around an island on the Mississippi, to 15+ miles of steep, rocky hills along the St. Croix, here are some of the trails I’ve discovered:
1. Pike Island
- St Paul / Fort Snelling– directions / map
- 3 miles – loop
- Easy – flat, wide trails
I stumbled across this island during a run through Minnehaha Falls and Fort Snelling. The island sits right where the Mississippi and Minnesota Rivers converge. A nice, easy, flat loop makes this a great trail for beginners looking to get a feel for running on an unpaved surface. Or, with its close proximity to West River Pkwy and Minnehaha Pkwy, it can be a great way to mix some trail miles into your road run. The trail is close to the city, but feels secluded, wild, and largely untraveled, aside from the occasional cross country team that practices here.
2. Hyland Lake Park Reserve
- Bloomington – directions / map
- 7 – 10+ miles
- Easy to Moderate – flats, rolling hills, and steep hills on single track, wide track, and grassy meadow trails.
Only about 20 minutes from Minneapolis, Hyland is one of my favorite spots. Offering diverse terrain and some amazing scenery, these trails are enjoyable and as challenging as you want them to be. Take it easy around Hyland Lake trails with no hills and wide trails covered in wood chips. For a challenge and an amazing view, include the trails that lead to the top of Hyland Ski & Snowboard Area (HSSA) and/or the Hyland Ski Jump. (You can even see the Minneapolis skyline from some places!) I do a lot of my trail running here and even ran my first Ultramarathon in Hyland Lake Park Reserve last year – Minnesota Trail Mix 50k. Check out the Salomon Autumn Trail Series.
3. Minnesota River Bottom
- Bloomington Area – directions / map
- 20+ miles – out-and-back
- Easy – flats and small rolling hills on mostly single track trails
A short drive from Minneapolis, these trails traverse through lightly wooded wetland areas along the Minnesota River. While the terrain is mostly flat, you’ll find some rolling hills in the section between 35W and 77. This is a great trail for a long, flat trail run. At times it feels like the trail never ends. Unlike most of the other trails mentioned here, these don’t loop back around, so you’ll have to do an out-and-back. The trails are typically very quiet with light traffic; on some days I’ve run for hours without seeing anyone at all.
4. Lebanon Hills
- Eagan – directions / map
- 7+ miles
- Easy – small rolling hills on single track
About 30 to 40 minutes from Minneapolis, Lebanon Hills offers some trails you have to check out. Don’t be fooled by the name, the hills out here are pretty small and very runnable. The trails are mostly single track, through wooded areas and past a couple of small ponds. Traffic on the trail isn’t bad, but you will probably encounter a few hikers along the trail.
5. Murphy-Hanrehan Park Reserve
- Savage – directions / map
- 15+ miles
- Moderate – rolling hills, some are steep and challenging
Murphy-Hanrehan, about 40 minutes from Minneapolis, is much more rugged and less developed than some of the other trails. As you arrive, you’ll turn down a gravel road that leads to the main parking lot – a field of dirt and grass. The trails themselves traverse through wooded areas, over rolling hills (and some pretty steep ones), and along grassy meadows with more gentle hills. There is a challenging 5k loop near the main parking lot, or explore what seems like endless trails for a longer run.
6. Afton State Park
- Hastings – directions / map
- 15+ miles
- Moderate to difficult – steep hills on a mix of single track and grassy trails
About 40 to 50 minutes from Cities, Afton State Park offers amazing views and scenery on somewhat technical trails (i.e. rocks and roots). This is my favorite place near Minneapolis for trail running. The terrain can be challenging, but the serene setting and great views along the St. Croix River and Afton Alps Ski hill make it all worthwhile. This is a great place to spend a few hours; whether you’re running or hiking up the hills, you can’t help but enjoy yourself.